Top Hiking Trails in the Eastern Cape

| Photo by Aleix Rafegas Farré on Unsplash
Gill Lange

The magnificent and varied terrain of the Eastern Cape boasts some of the most popular hiking trails in South Africa, and the province is fast ranking as one of the premier outdoor-adventure destinations in the country. Options range from strenuous trekking routes that take a few days to scenic walks meandering across streams, past waterfalls and wildlife, and along rugged coastal dunes. Hiking is one of the best ways to explore the uncluttered Eastern Cape, with trails that lead you into the freedom of solitude.

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Wild Coast walk

This five-night slackpacking trail begins at Kobb Inn near Mazeppa Bay and meanders along the Wild Coast before ending at the seaside village of Chintsa. The route includes some of the most scenic and picturesque landscapes in the Transkei and Eastern Cape and can be tackled by anyone with a moderate level of fitness. Enjoy long stretches of sandy beaches, whale watching from the headlands of Cape Henderson Reserve, wildlife, and the fragrant scent of coastal dune vegetation. This trail can be tackled in its entirety or in part, with various accommodation options and activities along the way.

Amatola hiking trail

The 62-mile (100-kilometer) Amatola trail is touted as the toughest in South Africa and begins at the Maden Dam near King Williams Town before traversing the Hogsback Mountains and concluding in Hogsback itself. More than half the route consists of ancient and indigenous rainforest, where mountain pools and sparkling waterfalls brighten up the landscape. Knysna loerie (a native bird) frequent the dense vegetation that, in parts, appears as a mystical sea of green. Day three introduces the macchia grassland, filled with gorgeous wild flowers and spectacular viewpoints. Well-appointed cabins provide overnight stops. This hike is only recommended for the physically fit.

Kettlesprout Falls hike

The lush and mystical atmosphere of Hogsback makes it an ideal location for romantic hikes where the landscape is often shrouded in mist, and rain-soaked tress glitter through the haze. The relatively easy Kettlesprout Falls hike begins at the Hogsback arboretum filled with red Japanese maples, oaks, and brightly coloured flowers as you make your way towards forested mountain slopes. Here tall, lichen-adorned trees flank the pathways, while small waterfalls and streams bubble merrily along pebbled beds. The highlight of the hike is the Kettlesprout Falls that tumble beautifully down the mountain’s edge. This is a moderate two- to three-hour hike. Contact the Hogsback Visitor Centre for more info.

Chokka Trail

Named for the chokka, or squid, that is caught off the coastline, the scenic Chokka Trail winds through gorgeous sand dunes, a tidal river, protected wetlands, and a working port as you explore the fabulous natural scenery of Oyster Bay, St. Francis Bay, and Cape St. Francis. The four-day slackpacking trail includes porters, some meals, and cozy overnight accommodation, so it really leaves nothing to worry about besides enjoying the picturesque views. Admire Cape clawless otter, bushbuck, and a whole host of other wildlife and history on this fascinating and informative trail.

Alexandria hiking trail

This two-day circular hiking trail is located in the Woody Cape area of the Addo Elephant National Park and offers outstanding birdlife, animals, and natural scenery. From coastal dune forests to sweeping seascapes and the largest duneveld in the southern hemisphere, the vistas to enjoy are seemingly endless. Begin in a magical yellowwood forest before reaching the shore where shipwrecks and dolphins wait to be discovered. Dip your toes in the ocean and inhale the fragrant scent of the indigenous fynbos (native heathland vegetation) as you connect with nature on this fabulous route.

Strandloper hiking trail

Follow the footsteps of some of South Africa’s first beachcombers on the Strandloper Hiking Trail. This fascinating four-day route takes hikers along magnificent sea-swept shores, past exquisite tidal pools and sparkling estuaries, and into age-old leafy forests. Beginning at the Kei River mouth, you will travel towards Morgan’s Bay and the fabulous Morgan Bay Cliff for exquisite views of the ocean below before tackling the headland. Sights along the way include numerous shipwrecks, a treasure trove of beach shells, and narrow intertidal beaches.

Addo mountain hike

The Addo mountain hike offers spectacular views of African antelope and other smaller species of wildlife and is one of only two areas where hiking is permitted in the Addo Elephant National Park. The route takes hikers up into the stunning Zuurberg valley, filled with proteas and other indigenous vegetation, and is also believed to house one of the largest populations of blue duiker in South Africa. Other scenic attractions to enjoy include verdant mountain forests, cool, clear streams, and a natural swimming pool where you can take a refreshing dip. Guided hikes can be booked through Crisscross Adventures.

Lammergeier Highlands Reserve hiking trails

The Lammergeier Highlands Reserve lies sprawled across the southern Drakensberg Mountains and invites hikers to step into another world as they lose themselves in the beauty of nature. Here, you can wander off the beaten track for an intimate experience with the surrounding landscape as you wade through fresh mountain streams and climb cliffs to absorb majestic views. Those that persevere may be lucky enough to have a rare Cape vulture swooping close by, while the grassy plains sway gently in the breeze and awesome views take your breath away. There are various hiking options available to suit all ages and fitness levels.

Highlands hiking trail

The scenic Drakensberg Mountains

This luxury hiking adventure can be booked through Active Escapes and offers all the joys of hiking in the fresh mountain air with the added benefit of charming farm-style accommodation at night. The three-day trail requires a moderate level of fitness and explores the gorgeous Eastern Cape highlands at the southern end of the Drakensberg Mountains. Enjoy birdwatching, fly fishing, swimming in bubbling streams, and lazing around the picturesque farmstead with all meals catered for. Other activities, at an additional cost, include mountain biking, river rafting, and horse riding.

Sacramento Trail

The Sacramento Trail is a favourite among Bay locals and is popular with runners as well as those just looking for a pleasant walk through nature. It is a circular five-mile (eight-kilometer) route through the Schoenmakerskop-Sardinia Bay Nature Reserve and meanders across some of the most remarkable seascapes and landscapes in Port Elizabeth. Depending on the time of year, runners may also be able to marvel at some spectacular dune vegetation that jumps out in riots of colour in springtime. There are a bronze canon, a monument, and the ruins of a mill to admire along the way.

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